THE FULL STORY: Harrowing animal death list revealed ahead of crunch meeting over zoo licence application

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1 August 2017 12:25PM

A HARROWING death list reveals for the first time how almost 500 animals - including tigers, lion cubs and giraffes - have died at a popular zoo in less than four years, the Evening Mail can exclusively reveal in a special investigation.

Poor management, emaciation and hypothermia are among the reasons for the above-average mortality rate at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton, while trauma and infighting caused by overstocked pens also account for the demise of scores of exhibits.

The shocking log, which provides a distressing catalogue of injuries and illnesses endured by a wide range of species at the site between December 2013 and September last year, has been branded the worst seen in 60 years by national campaigning charity the Captive Animal Protection Society.

It forms part of a huge bundle of documents disclosed to Barrow Borough Council which will be assessed by council bosses ahead of their decision on whether to approve either of two separate applications for a zoo licence at a crunch meeting for the business on March 6.

Maddie Taylor, Caps campaigns officer, said: "The findings at South Lakes Safari Zoo are some of the worst we have ever come across in 60 years.

"Our visit to the zoo combined with the zoo inspectors' reports shows high death rates of animals, animals in ill health and a lack of understanding about how to meet even the most basic needs of the animals under their care.

"We urge the local authority to take action by closing this appalling zoo down."

In one case on the death list, an African spurred tortoise named Goliath was electrocuted when it became stuck in charged fencing, while the decomposed body of a squirrel monkey was discovered behind a radiator, making a post mortem impossible to carry out.

The zoo, which is said to attract around 250,000 visitors every year and was known as South Lakes Wild Animal Park, lost two giraffes in the space of nine months with the first, a 13-day-old bull, dying of a gastrointestinal infection thought to be E coli in October 2015.

A second, an eight-year-old male, was shot in July last year after it collapsed and attempts to get it to re-stand overnight failed.

The vet who carried out a post mortem on the animal later raised concerns over the nutrition of the giraffe herd as its bodily condition was found to be similar to others that had been unwell or died.

Mystery surrounds the sudden death of two snow leopards; Miska and Natasja, in October 2015 after they were discovered partially eaten in their enclosure.

A vet intitially suspected they may have been poisoned but blood tests ruled this out. No post mortem was undertaken.

Indiana, a three-year-old white rhino, died after being crushed against a barrier by another rhino.

Some animals were killed as a form of population control - with seven healthy lion cubs euthanised at four days old in August last year because the safari zoo did not have room for them.

It followed the culling of five baboons in 2014 after their number grew too large.

 Founder: David Gill

Founder: David Gill

And 18 sacred ibis birds were shot by founder David Gill after he was threatened with prosecution for allowing the non-native species to fly free from the zoo - a move heavily criticised by avian experts during a subsequent court case over the matter.

Separate papers obtained by the Evening Mail show that just two months ago, a jaguar named Saka was euthanised after it chewed off its own paw overnight on December 27.

The keepers claimed it had sustained a bite beforehand but a report by external veterinary experts state other jaguars kept on site have suffered cut or damaged pads in the past from broken glass in rubble in the enclosure, loose wires in the jaguar house and large nails on the feeding poles.

FOUNDER ORDERED 'CULLING'

A TIGER responsible for the death of a keeper in 2013 was euthanised on the orders of controversial zoo founder David Gill last year, new documents show.

 Sumatran tiger: Padang

Sumatran tiger: Padang

Padang, a 14-year-old Sumatran tiger, was "culled" on March 22 last year - three years after its fatal attack on 24-year-old staff member Sarah McClay.

It was one of three tiger deaths recorded to have taken place at South Lakes Safari Zoo, in Dalton, in the last four years.

A catalogue of animal deaths made public for the first time reveals the attraction's vet was instructed to kill the big cat by Mr Gill with "no notes as to reason".

The record is at odds with the reason for Padang's departure last year when Mr Gill said the decision to put the animal to sleep had been taken on the advice of veterinary experts.

In a Facebook post last year, Mr Gill said: "Our independent ethics committee discussed all the options and had to agree with the specialist advice.

"The EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) Breeding Programme was informed and carnivore staff consulted beforehand."

It added: "In the wild, we have never monitored a male tiger past 10 years old, as they are not capable of surviving in the wild after that age.

“So, at his age, he was likely to be prone to complications. We shall all miss him."

Padang was found to have gained access to a feeding area where keeper Miss McClay was working before attacking her.

The former Dowdales School pupil suffered serious head and neck injuries during the tragic incident and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

South Lakes Safari Zoo was fined almost £450,000 after admitting to health and safety failings which resulted in the mauling.

The animal death records also show an 18-year-old female Amur tiger died in August 2013 of old age.

Alicia, a Sumatran tiger, was found dead in her enclosure just a few months later, in November 2013 after a member of the public reported seeing her choking.

A post mortem report concluded she had eaten a piece of meat too large to be swallowed, causing a piece to be inhaled into her larynx.

INSPECTORS CRITICISE 'SHOCKING' STANDARDS

ZOO inspectors have compiled a damning report on failings at a Dalton zoo - as they press for its controversial founder to be prosecuted for causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

A team of externally appointed experts visited South Lakes Safari Zoo last month to check the welfare of its animals and to ensure standards meet UK requirements for zoos.

But they concluded animals kept in areas managed by controversial site owner David Gill were beset with "significant problems" that had led directly to the deaths of a number of exhibits.

They highlighted deaths and injuries suffered by animals kept in the Tambopata aviary, tropical house and the old lemur houses as being "appalling and shocking" and contrary to modern welfare standards.

The secretary of state appointed zoo inspectors; Professor Anna Meredith, Nick Jackson, MBE, and vet Dr Matthew Brash, wrote: "The causes of these deaths can be laid either directly or indirectly upon the modus operandi of South Lakes Safari Zoo under the direction of DG (David Gill).

"The way these animals have been housed, treated and looked after is typical of the poor levels of management that the inspection team have found when the zoo was under South Lakes Safari Zoo management and can without any doubt lay the entire blame at his door."

Their conclusion goes on: "The conditions that these animals are being maintained in is, quite frankly, appalling and shocking and has led directly to the death of a number of them.

"It falls far below the standards required and is indicative of the lack of suitability for DG (David Gill) to hold a zoo licence."

The inspection team found the areas in question had too many animals for the enclosures available with non-compatible species sharing living space.

In December alone, seven parma wallabies, a Spix's guan and a Lady Amherst's pheasant had all died with one part time keeper - responsible for 170 animals - admitting she had been told to dispose of any further bodies and "not to tell anyone'".

One wallaby kept in the area, which is now off show to the public, was found to have injuries to its tail consistent with being bitten by rats while still alive.

The inspectors said they believed Mr Gill showed a "callous disregard" for the welfare of the animals in the area, adding: "Many of the welfare issues noted by the inspection team can clearly be put down to poor management."

They now recommend Mr Gill is refused a continuation of his licence to run a zoo.

They are recommending he is prosecuted under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act for allowing animals to suffer.

The report is the latest in an ongoing saga relating to the future of South Lakes Safari Zoo which has been blighted by controversy for a period stretching back many years.

In 2013, keeper Sarah McClay, 24, was mauled to death by Sumatran tiger Padang which led to a health and safety prosecution and a fine of almost £450,000.

There have been a series of animal escapes, including a three tonne rhino which marauded the streets of Dalton in 1997 and had to be shot, a flock of sacred ibis birds regularly flew to the beach at Roanhead, near Barrow, in 2014 while Capuchin monkeys were spotted loitering near to nearby homes that same year.

Further safety concerns were raised by inspectors last year after they declared a network of wooden walkways throughout the site were not safe for the public.

An attempt to renew the site's zoo licence last year was unsuccessful after members of Barrow Borough Council's licensing committee voiced concerns over the attraction's operation.

Two fresh applications have been submitted to the authority which are set to be determined at a meeting on Monday, March 6.

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hayley   gray , Cumbria Wednesday, 08 March, 2017 at 12:23PM
i have been to the zoo a lot of times i have never seen any zoo keepers around the animals should be moved to a better place please shut the zoo down there was glass all over the place my kids or anyone could of been hurt. if it stays open i dont think they should ask you to pay to feed animals at the end of the day you pay to get in the zoo i just think they got to big and as for killing the loin cubs that is disgusting they could of rehoused them somewhere .
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Phil   Mitchell , Ulverston Tuesday, 07 March, 2017 at 4:06PM
Why all the fuss? None of this is new! In fact it is all down to blind ignorance of officialdom and extreme arrogance of the owner. Pretty much from day one residents have raised concerns dating right back to the white rhino escaping and having to be shot. Let's not blame the animals and have them euthanised! It is time to kick the entire misguided council out! They allowed themselves to be rail-roaded time and again by Gill. They wouldn't spend the money on taking specialist advice. Barrow Council are beyond contempt as evidenced by the legionella outbreak, the failings of this zoo, the spectacular failings across the full spectrum of social and welfare services and the inadequacies in so many of their departments. Get real!
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Animal   Lover , Ulverston Tuesday, 07 March, 2017 at 1:43PM
Any form of animal cruelty or neglect totally disgusts me and this fiasco is yet another pitiful example - just on a bigger scale and in plain sight. As humans we should treasure the diversity of the wildlife we are lucky to have around us - especially the breeds that are close to extinction (generally due to effect of man). Years ago I felt extremely proud to have this facility on our doorstep, but the last time I visited (about 2 years ago) I felt shocked at how miserable and unhealthy some of the animals looked. I will never forget the two sad looking cheetahs pacing the perimeter of their tiny square pen in a middle plot. No trees or any form of visual stimulation - just a rock and a few tufts of grass on an otherwise dry mud postage stamp. These majestic cats had had all their soul and spark sucked out of them - and I felt it. This man is not fit to be in charge of or work with animals. He needs to take a trip to somewhere like Monkey World down south to see how it can be done properly. The trouble is, the first requisite for such a role would be to love animals passionately enough to put their needs first EVERY time; to want what is best for each animal, from their diet to exercise to veterinary care to happiness and quality of life. Sadly, in this case all these things came much, much further down the list to ARROGANCE, EGO and PROFIT. I really hope every single animal left is ensured a good home, wherever that may be. I am sure everyone following this upsetting story would be very interested in knowing where their new homes will be.
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Melanie   Haywood , Cheshire Monday, 06 March, 2017 at 9:23PM
How can so many people visit a zoo and see this happening without taking all possible action to raise attention to it. Surely anyone can see animals that are starving and kept in poor conditions. Anyone who has visited there, or worked there, and not done anything about it shares the blame for what has happened here. Social media makes it so easy to raise awareness and circulate concerns these days.
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Pat   Hurrell , Brighton Thursday, 02 March, 2017 at 1:22PM
While all this is going on who is making sure the animals are being looked after properly?
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Keith   Hardman , Dalton-in-Furness Thursday, 02 March, 2017 at 8:23AM
I repeatedly told the mail to investigate the zoo sometime ago.Gill and the location were never suitable for this venture.The council of the time the initial licence was granted and subsequent councils must take some responsibility together with the people who misguidedly supported Gill. I hope this council is strong enough to close the zoo down.Unfortunately the animals and the poor girl who died are the ones to suffer
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carol   cocks , Denton Wednesday, 01 March, 2017 at 6:19PM
No way should this zoo be allowed a licence when they cannot look after these animals humanely !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Christine   Rowe , Darwen Wednesday, 01 March, 2017 at 8:57AM
Close this appalling place down and get the animals moved to better conditions. Appalling to read how what has been going on . Put a stop to it as soon as possible. Really sad to think what these poor majestic animals have gone through over the years. No more please
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terry   dixon , barrow in furness Wednesday, 01 March, 2017 at 12:50AM
Please please please shut down this money making disgrace at the cost of vulnerable wild life species.ASAP
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Dawn   Treacy , Manchester Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 at 10:20PM
Me and my. Family and friends visited this zoo on Saturday I thought it was OK it was a wet day so you don't tend to notice things like no zoo keepers about or no food in any of the pens only the penguins were being fed.... The last bit of the journey round the monkey was sat outside had some how killed a pigeon and ripped it to shreds eating it there was no urgency in any keeper to stop it as the crowd increased because the monkeys were screaming chasing after each other I have pictures but there not close up bit shocking as most the animals weren't out to be expected on a rainy day
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Shirley   Mulhall , Nelson Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 at 8:33PM
This is discussing we won't be going again
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Vanessa   Willison-Pirie , Lancaster Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 at 5:55PM
This is truly harrowing, but also indicative of an arrogant power mad control freak! When the application for renewal has been applied in the past, why has this information not been made 5available? Vet reports and concerns? Who was the vet? It appears to me that people have felt intimidated by Mr. Gill as he can be quite a forceful personality. The alarm bells should have been ringing louder than this. It's upsetting and alarming to read, but it is yet another case for being at the end of the A590. I hope he gets everything due to him for the sake of the vulnerable animals involved.
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Aged   Observer , Barrow Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 at 3:24PM
No doubt the Gill Fan Club will be claiming everything is the fault of Barrow Borough Council for never giving Gill a chance. Talk about deluded.
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michelle   King , cumbria Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 at 12:52AM
after years of thinking that the town council were not encouraging a wildlife park that strived to help wild animals in the park and in the wild. I visited the park and was disgusted by the depravity that those poor animals lived in. every part of the park seemed amateurish and dirty .. I think it should be closed or bought by someone with knowledge that this park does not have
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Laura   Abblott , North East Monday, 27 February, 2017 at 10:18PM
Last time I went it was close to closing time and we were walking through the lemur free roaming area. There was a ring-tailed lemur isolated from the group by a bench near the red pandas. It was curled up only breathing. Another guest informed what I believe to be the red panda keeper, who told them it was sleeping. We watched the red pandas for a while and the keeper called what I assume was a lemur keeper over once those guests had gone, and they nudged it a few times with their foot and it didn't move. Then they walked off in opposite directions . I don't think they knew we were still there as when we walked past the keeper, obviously looking concerned, she said it was sleeping. It was still alive when we past but I dunno for how much longer. It wasn't a hot evening. I thought they would have seeked veterinary advice but I have a feeling after reading this that they wouldn't have. Wish I'd done more but I thought it was a good zoo.
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Janice   Corr , Barrow Monday, 27 February, 2017 at 9:35PM
Absolutely disgusted after reading this report. Poor, poor animals. The owner needs to be prosecuted to allow this type of suffering to innocent animals.
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Kerry   Graham , Cumbria Monday, 27 February, 2017 at 9:15PM
Why allow the animals to breed in the first place if you can not house the off spring! Cruel on many levels and disgusting measures were not taken to prevent these births leading to deaths. They should be ashamed of them selves and should be banned from allowing animals to breed at all
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Pauline   Simpson , Barrow Monday, 27 February, 2017 at 7:14PM
I cannot believe that this zoo is still open We in Furness should be ashamed that this appalling place is on our doorstep and we all should be campaigning to have it closed for good.
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Upset   Local , Barrow Monday, 27 February, 2017 at 6:29PM
I truly hope the Council refuses this licence request & close the zoo down permanently! This really is shocking & proves the animal welfare needs are not being met.
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